Bad News and Good News

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This morning was a network and systems service day – that is to say that it was one of the odd days that crop up around four or five times a year when something is happening that either requires that one or more of the components of our network needs to be serviced or adjusted, or we are preparing to add a new device. This time around it was a combination of those two.

The first issue that was being addressed was an increase to the backbone for our network that was made necessary by complaints from the peanut gallery about the network speed when more than two users on the network are watching video via one of the video streaming services that we use.

Five years ago, when we realized just how little we actually utilized our Cable TV connection for the purposes of entertainment – and after a brief examination of the matter we also realized that more than 75% of the combined viewing in our house was via the streaming services of Netflix and Hulu!

One result of this was our cutting the Cable cord literally speaking – which saved us around $100 a month. Another result was the sudden and overpowering need to upgrade our physical network (only an idiot would try to stream TV via a wireless connection after all) which at the time was an ancient pair of 100bT 3Com partially-managed Ethernet Switches.

The way that our network is structured – due to it having two very distinct “zones” is simple: In the basement room that we have called the NOC (Network Operations Center) since the day we bought the place (it also doubles as my business office and library) there is a pair of system racks – a Standard black 19” Commercial Systems and Server Rack bolted to the floor along one wall, and a standard 19” Post-Style Relay Rack that is also bolted to the floor along the wall.

The former houses the various servers without which our network would be useless – including a very robust (and noisy) Dell PowerEdge Model 2950 II Server that also functions as a Virtual Server and provides the virtual presence of a variety of servers,from Primary DNS, Email, and a Wiki Server as well as a Log Server for the entire network.

It contains other servers as well – our Media Server on which music, movies, and TV show recordings are stored and a file server on which photos and files are stored. There is a dedicated backup server and a test-bed that I use for writing web applets and apps too.

The latter contains the network hardware – the Ethernet Switch, Firewall device, Router, and the DSL2 Modem that connects us to the world primarily.

At the other end is the upstairs office that contains my working hardware that I use as a writer – the bulk of which consists of video game consoles housed in a rather nice Ikea TV and Entertainment Center, while the computer bits reside in a standard black 19” Commercial Systems and Server Rack that is tucked away in the corner.

The two zones were connected by a single “backbone” Cat5e Ethernet Cable that theoretically provided all the speed we needed, right? Well no, not so much really. Because even though the switch could maintain 100MB connections between any systems that were on the switch at that end, those systems had to share a single 100MB connection to the other switch – which if you were at the wrong end of that zoned backbone happened to be our Internet Connection and you probably get the picture.

So these complaints about network speed had to be answered – and so the old 100bT backbone and switched were removed from the network completely, being replaced by a matched set of GS724T Netgear Gigabyte Ethernet Switches.

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Those two switches were connected via a pair of Cat6 Ethernet Cables that were then joined as a “Trunk” to create a 2GB Backbone. And that worked great for quite a while and at least until in addition to using the network for TV viewing via streaming services, my daughter was bitten by the MMORPG bug, and THAT was when speed complaints cropped up again – and why this service say appeared on my schedule in April of 2016.

The solution was simple – add a third cable between the two switches right beside the original pair, connect them and then add the third port to the Trunk, effectively giving us a 3GB backbone connection. And that did the trick!

I decided that a test was in order so, what with my PS4 having not been used in something like six months due to all of the review copies I had been getting arriving on either Xbox One, PS3, and Xbox 360, turning on the PS4 so it could patch and update made a lot of sense. Sigh.

The Blue Line of Death – or “BLOD”

The practically unused almost new but now out-of-warranty PlayStation 4 was fired up, and the following happened:

  • Its power indicator pulsing blue.
  • No video/audio output happened.
  • The PS4 then powered off after the annoying pulsing blue light pulsed a bit.

Consulting Google I learned that this was a general fault code; it would be nearly impossible to pinpoint exactly what had gone wrong.

A quick log-in to Sony revealed that my PS4 was now 2 months out of warranty — that is to say the date had come and gone two months past at which I could have requested and received an RMA and gotten it fixed on Sony’s dime.

The price they quoted me – not including shipping – for the repair? $255 US.

That’s $255 US for a console I can purchase brand new for around $380 – so what to do? Pay for the repairs to my old console, or buy a brand new console for $125 more? The new console would have a longer warranty – and if I went the new route I was not locked into the bog standard black PS4 either – I could get a white one, or a limited edition version – the sky was the limit!

The thing is I absolutely required a PS4 as one of my upcoming projects requires me to have a working PS4 – so either way I needed to act on this now so that I could have a fully functioning, patched and updated PS4 ready to go on the morning of 10 May, when that project kicked off.

Interestingly enough I had recently experienced a similar issue with my Xbox One – and had opted in that case to purchase the Forza 6 Limited Edition Console because (a) it was on sale at the time, and (b) I liked the way it looked. If I was going to replace a console I might as well – I told myself – get something kick-ass!

You know that little voice in the back of your head that is supposed to help you in making decisions and in not embarrassing yourself? Yeah well, mine is broken.

swp24

Hello Limited Edition Star Wars Battlefront PlayStation4!

Oh and, while we are on the subject – when I logged into my Xbox One this morning and booted up Forza 6 to do a few laps I discovered that my custom Tunes and Livery Designs had both attained $50K in Community Use! Woot! So yeah, two Achievements worth 40g in total unlocked that I was so not expecting to happen! And how cool is that?

So far this week in terms of Achievements I am having a great week!

  • Forza 6 = 2 Achievements worth 40g
  • Hitman 2016 = 4 Achievements worth 40g
  • Tom Clancy’s The Division = 4 Achievements worth 30g

That’s a cool 110g in Achievementsville and how sweet is that?

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Spring Cleaning

necroache

For most people spring represents a time of renewal. A period of the year that is suited to resolving outstanding issues, sorting out the old and unwanted. Making a new nest in which to, well, nest. They call it Spring Cleaning. Practically everyone does it.

It may well be a sign of renewal as the average person perceives themselves emerging from the winter grayness and perceives the bright light of sunshine, life-granting rain for the flowers they just know will suddenly burst out of the ground, and the promise of if not warm and pleasant days at the beach, at least a renewal of all of the things that seem to make life in the summer fun.

For gamers though, that does not quite describe their annual position as properly or accurately as you might think. You see for gamers – and especially serious gamers – spring is simply the marker for the approached END of the game season – not a renewal.

The renewal period – Gamer Spring if you will – doesn’t arrive until September, which is traditionally the start of the new gamer season which runs from September to May.

The months of June, July, and August are simply the fallow period between game seasons.

When Microsoft set out to create the new LIVE experience for the then new version of its games console – the Xbox One – a major element in that effort was to bring together in a more cohesive manner the basic presence of a set of resources that, arguably, Microsoft could claim to have pretty much invented.

I am, of course, writing about the Achievements System and how spectacularly it succeeded in creating a niche that – at the time of its conception – Microsoft had no idea it could fill.

Even Microsoft willingly admits that its Xbox LIVE Achievements system was created more accidentally than on purpose.

In fact it very nearly did not get created, as there were elements in the power structure of the planning committee who both didn’t grok the point of recognizing Achievements in games and, ironically, could not see how that sort of thing might appeal in any way to the gamers who were ostensibly the customer.

Hindsight being 20/20 it is easy to see now how the Xbox LIVE Achievements system and the manner in which it feeds into the whole rewards and recognition concept – and how it essentially provides to gamers on the Xbox platform a means by which their prowess and success – even their own notions of their value as a gamer – might be measured.

We’ve covered that part of the story quite well in the past – no need to go there now.

In fact the reason for bringing the subject up again is mostly due to an odd pattern that has emerged that has to do with a rather twisted version of spring cleaning.

The Achievement and the To Do List

Any gamer who has been even a little involved in online chat boards that service the gamer community has encountered the whole Achievement Hunter subculture in gaming.

These are gamers who quite literally believe that every “G” matters – a “G” being a Gamer Point.

It is entirely normal to find that members of that subculture display their accomplishments in terms of Gamer Score and Game Completion Status as a badge of honor. The signature line for their accounts on games chat boards and, for all we know, on their email client, carefully lists every game that they have managed to fully unlock the Achievements in.

They call it one-hundred-percenting and list the games under that heading. They often brag about the effort that went into acquiring that distinction – especially when it is for a game that had difficult Achievements – often nearly impossible to unlock unless a gamer is willing to literally train up their skills to do it.

To these gamers there are no Achievements that are simply not worth the effort. But that is not what this post is about.

game on

Left-Overs

This post is about the odd left-over Achievements that seem to linger in games that, by all rights, should have been unlocked ages ago.

These are not difficult to unlock Achievements mind you – they just never… Somehow… Ended up being unlocked.

If you examine the typical gamer’s Achievements you will find these – often a lot of them actually. I am just as guilty as most gamers in making lists of left-overs and devoting at least some time to completing them too.

Just the other day I found myself reviewing the whole left-overs situation for my own Achievements List on Xbox One, and without even actively seeking to, formed a plan to address the left-overs and get them out of the way and unlocked in less than 20 minutes a day! And yes, I do worry that I suffer from some form of OCD.

Before I knew it, I had assessed the situation and created my list of left-overs to be consumed – of which the sampling below is just that – a sample:

  • Angry Birds Star Wars – Block Buster (15g) Smash 25 blocks with a single flight of Boba.
  • Angry Birds Star Wars – Probe Gatherer (15g) Find five Droid Levels.
  • Assassins Creed IV – Devil of the Caribbean (40g) Defeat all 4 Legendary Ships.
  • Assassins Creed IV – Sharing is Caring (10g) Share each type of discovery with friends once.
  • Dead Island – Death Incarnate (50g) Survive Wage 30.
  • Dead Island – There and back again (30g) Explore the entire island.
  • Fallout 4 – Benevolent Leader – 20g) Reach Max Happiness in a Large Settlement.
  • Fallout 4 – Docile (15g) Have 5 Tamed Creatures in a Settlement.
  • Far Cry Primal – Gotcha (10g) Eliminate 10 enemies using hunting traps.
  • Far Cry Primal – Inflammable (10g) Eliminate 50 enemies with fire.
  • Forza 5 – P1 vs Nordschleife (20g) Finish P1 vs Nordschleife Rivals event w. lap time of 7:15.
  • Forza 5 – Sidewinder (20g) Earn 20 Perfect Drift Scores.
  • Forza 6 – Cashing In (20g) Earn 50K cr from the community using your Design.
  • Forza 6 – Making a Name (20g) Earn 50K cr from the community using your Tune.
  • Forza Horizon – Covered in Mud and Glory (20g) Win a Horizon Rally.
  • Forza Horizon – Stuntman (25g) Complete every Horizon Outpost PR Stunt.
  • Forza Horizon 2 – Horizon Enthusiast (25g) Complete 100 Championships.
  • Forza Horizon 2 – Well Traveled (30g) Complete 25 Online Road Trips.
  • Halo 5 – Gravelord (40g) Find and claim all Skulls.
  • Halo 5 – Warlord (20g) Win a match on all three original Warzone maps.
  • Halo MCC – Big Time Gamer (10g) Complete 400 missions or multiplayer games.
  • Halo MCC – Oh, These Baubles? (10g) Collect 6,000 campaign or playlist medals.
  • Halo Spartan Assault – Immune (100g) Finish co-op mission without becoming infected.
  • Halo Spartan Assault – Powered by MJOLNIR (20g) Use every ability in campaign at least once.
  • Just Cause 3 – Forgive me Father (10g) Take sanctuary in a monastery to clear Heat Level 5.
  • Just Cause 3 – Look at the Sly Fox (35g) Use barrel role to evade 10 missiles.
  • Mad Max – Maximum Air (10g) Be airborne in a vehicle for 4s and land w/o dying.
  • Mad Max – Up, Up and Away (10g) Fly the balloon at every Vantage Outpost.
  • Mafia II – Explorer (10g) Drive a total of 1000 miles in Jimmy’s Vendetta.
  • Mafia II – Massacre (20g) Kill 1000 enemies in Jimmy’s Vendetta.
  • Microsoft Bingo – Everyday Explorer (50g) Reach Level 30.
  • Microsoft Bingo – Mementos (40g) Complete three different collections.
  • Microsoft Solitaire – Blizzard of Bliss (30g) Win 100 Klondike Games.
  • Microsoft Solitaire – Web Surfing (30g) Win 100 Spider Games.
  • Minecraft – Overkill (30g) Deal nine hearts damage in a single hit.
  • Minecraft – Tie Dye Outfit (15g) Dye all 4 pieces of Leather Armor.
  • Sniper Elite 3 – Sniping with Friends (40g) Complete the campaign in co-op.
  • Sniper Elite 3 – The Everyman (20g) Complete all the challenge missions.
  • Thief – Legend in Leather (75g) Complete 25 optional Thieving Objectives.
  • Thief – Sleight of Hand (20g) Pick 100 Pockets in a single playthrough.

Now consider this – if you were a gamer who was very invested in your Gamer Score the sample above – which represents about a fifth of the left-overs I found in reviewing my Achievements – actually totals more than a FULL game!

The standard AAA title on the Xbox platform is required to have 1000g while games that are classified as “Arcade” titles only have to have 250g (I think – it used to be 200g). When I added up the g for the above I obtained a total of 1,040g.

Just to offer up a more complete set of stats I took a look at my games and Achievements list and discovered that I have played a total of 371 unique games over the course of my history on the Xbox platform beginning with the Xbox 360 (prior to that I was a fan of the PS2).

A quick check and I was surprised to learn that those 371 games have a total of 376,225g of which I had only unlocked 165,905 – less than half. Ouch. Of course that means I have plenty of opportunity in just the games on my list now, right? Right!

When I added up the rest of the list that I did not share above, it actually comes to 6,735g – which is more than 6 full games in basically, well, left-overs. But obviously based on the total sin the above paragraph there is more – way more – than 6 or 7 games worth of left-overs. Just saying.

What are your totals?

Installing New Games

Truth in Advertising Laws have been taken too far…

Any games journo who tells you that the free games that they get are no big deal is being an asshat.  While I am one of those writers who firmly believe that it should never be about the free games, I also know that the daily experience of logging into your email in the morning and seeing the mail cart approach your desk in the afternoon is a pretty heady one; you never know what games are going to arrive today, and when you get titles you did not request and so were not expecting, it is a little bit like the feeling you used to get on Christmas morning back when you were still young enough to believe in Santa Clause.

Thursday last was a particularly fruitful game arrival day, as in addition to the four flat packages that arrived in the mail cart, there were half-a-dozen codes in the email box — and even those were something of a surprise by themselves as three of the codes actually resulted in multiple games, but I am getting ahead of myself…

Like a lot of PC users I don’t like to use my computer when something is being installed — the problem with that is that it is hard to tell if Steam is actually installing some part of the game you are adding from that service or it is just downloading, since the entire process is carried out under the guise of “installing” since that is what the window’s title is.  That being the case I find that whenever a Steam game is being added my PC ends up being declared temporarily unusable by the very violent Irish Military Policeman who patrols my noggin.

Yesterday I plugged in the three Steam Codes I received in email, naively thinking that the act of activating three codes would logically lead to three games being installed, right?  No, wrong!  After blithely entering the codes I was thunderstruck by the resulting download and installation monitoring status screen thingy as it revealed the download and installation progress for ELEVEN (11) games!  And a couple of those games were larger than 4GB!

I don’t like being forced into the role of data traffic cop, and because the bandwidth in our office is not a humungous or wide-pipe uber-broadband- onnection,  a user who wants all of the other uses to not hate their very guts takes care to arrange large downloads so that they take place overnight, when nobody needs that bandwidth.  As a result it was not long before a voice could be heard loudly asking: “Who is doing bandwidth intensive tasks?!”

I quickly hit the pause-all button and then assessed the situation on my desktop — and then resumed the download for the smallest item in the list.  As each of the small items completed, I then resumed the download for the next smallest, and etc. until all that was left to be downloaded was a trio of very large games.  Those I left hanging until the close of business, and the last thing that I did before departing for the weekend was to resume all three of those, fully expecting that when I arrive at work on Monday they will all be finished.  I hope.

There is a price to be paid, you see, for all those free games, and I just want you to know that we willingly pay that price for you, so we can review and write about the games for you, the reader.  Oh, and I also want you to be aware that if someone was using the office network over the weekend and my massive download messed with their work, I will be blaming you.